BAGHDAD - In a barren desert seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Forward Operating Base Hammer lies quietly in the Mada'In Qada east of Baghdad and miles from the Iraq capital's heavily populated streets.

Troops from the 277th Engineer Company, 46th Engineer Combat Battalion, 225th Engineer Brigade arrived here late July 21 to begin a project that will possibly take months to complete, beefing up the force protection to defend Soldiers living at Hammer, most of whom are from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

The enormous job, mainly due to the size of the base, began with an assessment conducted by the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the project, Staff Sgt. Kristopher Schmidt of Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. Arriving the night before beginning the project, Schmidt briefed Brig. Gen. Owen Monconduit, commander, 225th Eng. Bde., on the construction effort. He said he knew he had to bring the project down to size.

"When I looked at the project, I saw there was a lot of work," Schmidt explained. "But by keeping it compartmentalized, you put it in scale. That keeps morale up and for me as a leader-that's critical."

Schmidt should know about mission completion. Since arriving in Iraq in late February, he has completed everything from route sanitation missions on the streets of Sadr City, to moving heavy equipment for units and acting now as the NCOIC for his third construction effects project.

The mission, filling seven by seven by seven feet containers with 14 and a half yards of fill material to create a barrier becomes expensive when thousands must be filled. Thankfully, Schmidt is relying on skills acquired outside the military to come up with out-of-the-box ways to reduce costs. Schmidt told Monconduit he had identified fill material that could be reused in order to save money.

"I am self-employed on the civilian side and that is what I look for - ways to save money," Schmidt said.

Schmidt has owned his own construction excavation and tree transportation company for the last 18 years. He said being mindful of expenses has led to his company's success.

"This is my money, it's all our money. Just because we are in Iraq, we are still held responsible (for tax payer's dollars). That's part of our job," explained the businessman.

The Reserve Soldier was cross leveled from his original unit for the deployment. He said the dynamic of coming together as a team is an amazing feat that speaks volumes to the professionalism of today's Army.

"We (277th Eng. Co.) are from Missouri, Texas, Idaho, Washington ... as Reservists, we were brought together to build this team to deploy," he said with excitement. "That's huge."

By coming together as a team, and using each other's knowledge, the group has been able to make the most out of any task given to them.

"Soldiers bring life experience to the Army. I see it all the time. The gifts the Reserve and National Guard bring to the military are immeasurable," he smiled. "I mean, we have an E-4 (lower enlisted Soldier) that is an attorney."

Schmidt reflected on one of the most important moments for him during his deployment. He described working on the streets of Sadr City cleaning up the streets to reduce places terrorists could place improvised explosive device. He said the streets were narrow and their vehicles large, but that didn't stop the people from coming out of their homes to see the Soldiers, smile and wave.

"Dads brought their [children] out to see us... it's a trust thing. It puts meaning to the mission when you are effectively changing their lives," Schmidt, who is a father of two, said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16